Conneaut History & Genealogy - Ashtabula Co., Ohio
 

History of
Ashtabula Co., Ohio

SOURCE: History of Ashtabula County, Ohio
Large, Moina W.
Topeka :: Historical Pub. Co.,, 1924, 1132 pgs.

Early Settlers

CHAPTER IV.

EMIGRATION - EARLY COLONIZATION - "OLD HARPERSFIELD LAND COMPANY" - ALEXANDER HARPER - "WESTWARD HO" PARTY - HARDSHIPS ENCOUNTERED - HARPERSFIELD AS A METROPOLIS - ITS POPULATION

     It was a couple of years after the arrival of that first little party from Connecticut before there was any material emigration from the east to this far-off section of which so little was known.  Means of communication were slow and uncertain and months elapsed after the party left their Connecticut homes before their friends there received any word from them.
     When the letters did arrive they afforded exciting news for each neighborhood and many at once decided that they would cast their lots with those who had preceded them to the Reserve.  Some of them carried out their resolution and, in the course of time, those who were already here received most welcome visitors who straggled in from the old home state with personal messages from the loved relatives "back there."
     The first decided movement toward a permanent colonization of thsi immediate section resulted from the organization of the "Old Harpersvield Land Company", which was effected in Harpersfield, N. Y., in 1798.  Alexander Harper was one of the prime movers in organizing this company, the purpose of which was to invest in and develop land in the Western Reserve, which was by that time becoming well advertised in the Eastern states as the land "flowing with milk and honey".
     Harper was a man of action and quick to see opportunities.  Those associated with him in the project were no less anxious to see things move, and no time was lost in getting about the business in hand.  It became known very soon in their own and surrounding towns that an emigration movement was on foot and applications to join the party that was being organized did not have to be solicited.  Land that included six townships in the Western Reserve was purchased from the Connecticut Land Company.  This tract was divided by the Cuyahoga River, three townships lying west and three east of that stream.
     In March, 1798, the "Westward Ho" party, comprising about 25 members who were ready to try their fortunes in unknown forests, left their New York homes. The company included Alexander Harper, his wife and their children, James, William, Robert, Alexander Jr., Elizabeth and Mary; their hired man, Gleason; William McFarland and Mrs. McFarland; Ephraim Clark; Parthena Mingus, her son, William, and an adopted son, Benjamin Hartwell; Ezra Gregory, wife and children, Eli, Johnathan, Daniel, Thatcher, Ezra, Anna, Eleanor and Betsy.
     It is related that they first journeyed in sleighs as far as Rome, N. Y., and there they remained until the ice had gone, so they could proceed by water. They went to Oswego and there secured small boats, by which they voyaged to the mouth of the Niagara River. They portaged across to the foot of Lake Erie, embarking from Fort Erie in a little vessel that was taking on a cargo of supplies for military troops stationed farther west in Canada. This boat took them as far as Presque Isle (now Erie), and there they obtained passage in boats whose owners engaged to transport the party farther west.
     On June 28, 1798, they disembarked at the mouth of Cunningham Creek, on the south shore of Lake Erie, and camped there for the night. Next morning Mr. Harper, with the women and children of the party, started on foot inland and tramped about four miles till they came to a place that seemed to promise a good home site. Here they were joined by the others of the party, who had transported the provisions, baggage and other equipment. All set to and hastily constructed a temporary shelter to cover them for the night. Later they completed a crude but habitable abode in which the whole colony were domiciled for several weeks, while the men were casting about in various directions for suitable places in which to establish permanent homes.
     The Harper and McFarland families decided to locate at a point near where is now Unionville, and Mr. Gregory and his family chose a place a few miles to the southeast, on Grand River.
     It was well that these venturesome families included several husky boys, for two of the party did not live to realize any of the hopes of their venture beyond the actual establishment of the new homes. The Harpers' hired man, Gleason, died soon after their arrival, and Mr. Harper was stricken and died before the snows of the winter fell. Thus the boys of that family had to assume strenuous obligations early in their career as settlers.
     According to records obtainable, there were but fifteen families of whites in the entire Western Reserve prior to the arrival of the party above referred to. Cleveland had three of those, Youngstown ten, and Mentor two. In this same year, however, three other families came from the East and settled in what is now Burton, in Geauga County, and others came to Hudson, in Summit County.
     The next arrivals came in the spring of 1799, Aaron Wright, Levi and John Montgomery, Robert Montgomery and family, Nathan and John King, and Samuel Bemus and family coming from the East and settling in what is now Conneaut.
     During the summer following, Eliphalet Austin, with his associates, George Beckwith with his family, Roswell Stephens and family, and several other men, established a settlement where now is Austinburg.
     In June of that year George Phelps and family cast their lots in what is now Windsor Township, Monroe received its first settlers in the persons of Stephen Moulton and his family, and Joseph Harper and Aaron Wheeler, two of the promoters of the Old Harpersfield Land Company, arrived with their families and increased the settlement on Grand River, which afterward was given the name of Harpersfield.
     The number of settlers within the boundaries of this county in the winter of 1799-1800 was about fifty, of whom the greater number made Harpersfield their home, that hamlet thereby having the honor of being the "metropolis" of Ashtabula County. Conneaut, Austinburg, Windsor and Monroe boasted possession of the remainder of the population, Conneaut having the most and the others standing relatively as named.
The influx of emigrants took a new start in the spring of 1800, and during that year the following acquisitions were made to the several settlements:
     To Harpersfield came Daniel Bartholomew and a Mr. Morse, with their families; Conneaut's population was increased by the addition of Seth Harrington, James Harper, James Montgomery, and their families; Austinburg's growth was given a decided impetus by the settlement therein of Joseph and J. M. Case, Roger Nettleton, Joseph B. Cowles, Adam Cowles, Josiah Moses, John Wright, Sterling Mills and family, Noah Cowbles and son Solomon, Dr. O. K. Hawley, and Ambrose Humphrey.
     Nearly all of the men named made the journey from Connecticut on foot or by horseback. Numerous of them braved the perils of such an arduous journey with the idea of locating and building at least a temporary home for their families who were left behind. Later several of the heads of families made the journey back to the native state to get their own and the other men's families who were to become pioneer residents of the West.
     According to Joshua Forbes, who wrote a history of Wayne Township, a missionary from Connecticut, named Rev. Thomas Robbins, made a complete circuit of Ashtabula County, as it was later bounded and organized, in the year 1804, and upon its completion stated that he found, in the entire county, 93 families, constituting a population of from 400 to 500. Of these families, Harpersfield had 27; Conneaut, 20; Austinburg, 17, and Morgan, 13.
     The early comers must have sent glowing accounts of the new country to their friends "back home", for the number of settlers gradually increased, starting each spring and continuing through each summer, while some of the belated ones who came across country dropped in during the rigorous winter months.

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